Piper and the clarity of scripture
Dan recently posted on John Piper's comment:
'My experience [with the New Perspective on Paul] is that people who talk this way do not generally see the meaning of the New Testament as clearly as those who focus their attention not in the extra-biblical literature but in the New Testament texts themselves. For the ordinary layman who wonders what to do when scholars seem to see what you cannot see, I suggest that you stay with what you can see for yourself'
In his usual style, Dan scorched his keyboard with blistering and amusing rhetoric. His whole post is well worth reading and I found myself agreeing that Dan has spotted something vital in going for the 'plain reading' jugular. Piper's comment, while understandable, is actually inexcusable. I am quite sure that there are many passages of the bible that say something quite different from the many potential 'plain readings', as scholarship demonstrates time and time again. This is a question of loving truth, of loving God with our minds, of an integrated spirituality, of an understanding of the actual nature of scripture and of the canon and its development, of the reformation of the church in light of scripture. The paper pope of the misunderstood clarity of scripture will keep many sure of their structurally problematic dogmatic castles, even when truth-seeking has shown them to be built on sand.
However, while I tend to many readings of Paul and the Gospels that are quite seriously subversive of pop-evangelical readings, especially in terms of justification and eschatology, I do wonder if the semper reforandum that has encouraged many of these readings has taken the bible from the average church-goer.
One of the commentators to Dan's post asked: 'How does a layman/laywoman read the bible if they do not possess the time or inclination to read what the scholarly body of work on a subject? And, when faced with two opposing "scholarly" viewpoints, what is the best way in which to judge those positions?'
Good questions, I think. Surely the clarity or perspicuity of scripture can be a much abused doctrine, but is not something lost when we push the 'true reading' into the realms of scholarship alone? Are we becoming another academic elite that fails to communicate with the life of the church, much like the protestant liberalism that Barth so vigorously shook off. Barth opened up to the person in the pew 'the strange new world of the bible'. Have we made it too difficult to reach?
These are rhetorical questions. I for one cannot and must not turn my back on scholarship and will seek to make its findings understandable to the church – rather than hiding behind nonsense dogmatic declarations clothed in a misunderstood doctrine of perspicuity. A part of me wants to say that dilettantes are better to steer clear of teaching, and read the bible only with the help of a theologically trained Christian teacher. Another part of me knows that is a stupid thing to say.